Bryant Day marks start of new reading season

“The bell-ringing will go on for a while,” said Sherra Babcock, Chautauqua Institution vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “And it will be loud.”

The Miller Bell Tower tolls the hour, but this Saturday it will toll for reading. And it will be the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Class of 2013 — not chimemaster Carolyn Benton — who will ring the bells.

The occasion is Bryant Day, which marks the beginning of the reading year for the CLSC. Although the event used to be held in autumn, it currently falls on the second-to-last weekend of every season. It functions as a way of closing one season and looking forward to the next, by announcing the first three CLSC selections for 2013–14.

At 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Babcock will announce the book titles at the foot of the Miller Bell Tower. There will also be traditional songs and recitative readings. Following the ceremony, members of the CLSC Class of 2013 will be given the opportunity to ring the bells in the bell tower — the only time members of the community are allowed to do so, other than on New Year’s Eve.

The day commemorates poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant. Although he was not a member of the CLSC, he demonstrated great support for the program. A letter Bryant wrote to Chautauqua co-founder John Heyl Vincent, taken from records kept in the CLSC Veranda, evidences his interest.

“I perceive this important advantage in the proposed organization,” Bryant writes about the CLSC, “namely: that those who engage in it will mutually encourage each other. It will give the members a common pursuit, which always begets a feeling of brotherhood — they will have a common topic of conversation and discussion, and the consequence will be that many who, if they stood alone, might grow weary of the studies which are recommended to them, will be incited to perseverance by the interest they see others taking in them.”